A 25-year survey of work by contemporary Queensland artist Michael Zavros opens at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art from tomorrow until 2 October 2023.
‘The Favourite’ is the largest state Gallery exhibition of Zavros’s work to date and traces his artistic trajectory since 1999.
QAGOMA Director Chris Saines said the exhibition highlighted Zavros's abiding interest in objects and ideals of beauty. These are rendered in exacting detail, with a subtle yet conscious focus on their status and effect on contemporary culture.
‘At the core of the exhibition and among the things that differentiate Michael Zavros from other artists of his generation is an unapologetic love of beauty and craftsmanship, folly, and grandeur.
‘Audiences will enter Michael’s world. They will see the rigour and breadth of his practice and how his work across multiple media reveals a subtly evolving worldview.
‘His work is inescapably about who he is: his lifestyle — real or imagined — his family, his interests and values,’ Mr Saines said.
‘The Favourite’ brings together more than 90 works, primarily paintings, but also includes sculpture, video, and photography. It begins with a series of early paintings including Man in a wool suit 1999 and Ferragamo 2000, exquisite miniatures inspired by luxury advertisements in men’s magazines.
These works appear alongside a series of large, sleek Debaser drawings that depict head shots of male models wearing the collars of high fashion houses but with their faces largely erased, followed by the Prince/Zavros series inspired by American conceptual artist Richard Prince’s ‘Cowboy’ images of the late 1980s – appropriations of the iconic Marlboro Man tobacco advertisements.
The exhibition also includes Zavros’ dramatic equestrian series of paintings, drawings and sculptures which show the power and vulnerability of thoroughbred horses, and his paintings of rare Japanese Onagadori chickens with their impossibly long tails.
Audiences will encounter intricate representations of architecture and stately European interiors such as Love’s temple 2006 and Unicorn in the anticamera 2008, along with a trio of large, lavish monochrome interiors that reveal domestic spaces inhabited by ‘trophy’ artworks by three very recognisable and coveted Australian artists – Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Dale Frank, and Bill Henson.
Portraiture is another major focus within the exhibition and Zavros himself is a common subject, whether represented as the Greek mythological character Narcissus or by the bespoke mannequin Dad, who acts as the artist’s double, and features in numerous works, stretching and blurring notions of identity. Depictions of the artist’s three children – such as Phoebe is Dead/McQueen 2010, Madonna and child 2016, and Boy with lemon 2018 – further explore the convergence of art and life. These paintings candidly respond to a plethora of internet trends and age-related interests within carefully constructed, yet light-hearted, role play.
Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch MO said 'The Favourite' is an opportunity to celebrate the creative talent of Queensland artist Michael Zavros.
'I am thrilled to see this major exhibition of Michael Zavros work being presented here in his home state, reinforcing the significance of his practice and of QAGOMA as a world leading art museum that showcases the best of contemporary art for diverse audiences.
'In our recent State Budget, the Queensland Government committed $4.4 million over two years from 2025 – 2026 and ongoing annual investment of $2.2 million from 2027-28 to enable QAGOMA to continue to secure a pipeline of world-class blockbuster exhibitions and events.
'This investment provides a vital boost to our economy, creating jobs, growing cultural tourism, and also recognises the important role QAGOMA will play in showcasing our arts and cultures to the world ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games,' Minister Enoch said.
Exhibition curator Peter McKay, Curatorial Manager of Australian Art, QAGOMA said Zavros’s works are challenging at times.
‘Many of Michael’s most successful gestures use humour and ambiguity to entertain a deeper meaning. He reflects on his sense of identity and prompts audiences to consider their own values. Taking a wider view, we might look at the broader patterns of society and the individual through his frame. Looking across 25 years of practice, we can see that the complexity and tension of the most recent sculpture and photography is starting to shift the way we read early works – this retroactivity is intriguing,’ Mr McKay said.
Drowned Mercedes 2023, a major new sculptural work created for the exhibition, sees the cabin of an original classic 1990s Mercedes-Benz SL convertible entirely filled with water. Gallery visitors will peer into the luxury vehicle with its immaculately crafted wood and cream leather interior and see their own reflection in the water.
‘The Favourite’ also features a collection of playful still life arrangements, a pillar of Zavros’s practice in recent years. These works feature combinations of fruit and flowers, silk scarves, seashells and vases on pristine white canvases and conjure all kinds of animals from poodles to peacocks, and giant pandas to the mythological Phoenix.
The exhibition concludes with the large-scale mural Acropolis Now 2023, a huge painterly rendering of the Parthenon in Athens. It will function as a Greek coffee house or kafenio once a month and be activated by members of Brisbane’s Greek community playing backgammon and drinking Greek coffee, inviting exhibition visitors to join them.
‘Michael Zavros: The Favourite’ is accompanied by a major hardcover publication featuring an interview with the artist and curator, essays by Robert Leonard, Director, IMA Brisbane; fashion curator and writer Paola Di Trocchio and QAGOMA paintings conservators Ruby Awburn and Gillian Osmond.
‘Gods and Monsters’, a special children’s project developed by Michael Zavros in collaboration with QAGOMA, encourages children to explore key figures and symbols of Greek mythology through an animation inspired by ancient Greek pottery, and a multimedia interactive in which they can create their own digital ‘hero’ identity. This free program is presented in the Gallery’s Children’s Art Centre from 24 June until 2 October 2023.
Up Late returns across two nights during ‘Michael Zavros: The Favourite’. From 6:00pm until 10:30pm on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 August audiences can enjoy the exhibition, live music, curated DJ sets and culinary delights at pop-up bars. Tickets on sale and line up announced at www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/uplate
For one admission price audiences can experience ‘The Favourite’ alongside ‘Beautiful Wickedness’, a retrospective of more than 100 works by Canberra-based artist and tattooist eX de Medici.
‘Michael Zavros: The Favourite’ is made possible through the support of Major Partners Shayher Group and Urban Art Projects. A full list of supporters is available online.